Revitalizing communities, 15 entrepreneurs at a time

The idea is simple, really. Take a group of entrepreneurs who have promising ideas for new businesses, connect them with mentors, teach some business basics, and introduce financial backers. Then let the entrepreneurs themselves vote on which businesses should be funded.

That's the premise behind a new accelerator that Emory and its Social Enterprise @ Goizueta (SE@G) program are running with community partners. VilCap:Start seeks to unlock the economic potential of marginalized neighborhoods in metro Atlanta. It provides the most promising micro-entrepreneurs (those whose businesses employ four or fewer people) with the business knowledge, network access, and early-stage financing to develop their businesses.

"It is meant to address the micro-business gap," says Peter Roberts, academic director of SE@G. Whereas many accelerators focus on launching high-growth ventures, this program brings opportunities to the small business owner, who can make a difference on a particular street corner and in a particular community.

VilCap:Start began in 2013 in Clarkston, Ga., with nonprofit partner CDF and was the subject of an Emmy-nominated film. To date, the Clarkston program has worked with 30 entrepreneurs, awarding loan funding to six, including artist Gregory Christie, featured above. In 2015, the program will expand to the East Lake community, with the support of two Goizueta alumni -- Rhonda Fischer, COO of East Lake Foundation, and Brian Goebel, program director of SE@G's Micro-Entrepreneur Accelerators program. The foundation's partnership with SE@G marks the next generation of programming to help break the intergenerational cycle of poverty in East Lake, says Fischer.

Goebel hopes to take the accelerator platform to more neighborhoods and currently is exploring possibilities to support promising micro-entrepreneurs along the Atlanta BeltLine by leveraging -- you guessed it -- another Emory alum connection. | Watch YouTube video